Mama said there'd be days like this, but that doesn't make them any easier for fans of the Blueshirts. Here's a quick rundown of the bad news the Rangers endured in their 1-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
• The Sabres have now matched the Rangers with 87 points and moved into a seventh-place tie.
• The Carolina Hurricanes waxed the Montreal Canadiens, 6-2, to close within three points of the Rangers/Sabres and the final playoff seed, while the loss means the Rangers missed a chance to tie the Habs in sixth.
• Henrik Lundqvist's strong, one-goal-allowed effort was squandered in his 21st consecutive start, a number that matches his career high.
It looks like it will be a grind indeed for the final playoff spots in the East and the Rangers' bitter rivals will not make it any easier on them Wednesday night. Here's what to watch for when the Blueshirts battle the New York Islanders.
E Is For 'Effort'
After Wednesday's loss, head coach John Tortorella called the Rangers' effort in the first two periods "unacceptable." They were outshot 12-3 to start the first and never really mounted any serious pressure against Buffalo backup Jhonas Enroth, who recorded his first career shutout while filling in for all-star Ryan Miller. After a few whip-cracks from Tortorella, expect a rededicated effort from the Rangers tonight.
Who Put Out the Red Light?
After a three-game stretch that saw the Rangers average over five goals per game -- a span that started with a six-goal night against the Islanders March 15 -- they have averaged under a goal per game through the last four contests. That's largely been the story this season for the Rangers; the faucet is either flooding the apartment or trickling down the drain. After looking like he was about to catch fire with five goals and an assist from March 9 through 20, Marian Gaborik has disappeared. With 11 other forwards on the ice every night, it might be unfair to lay the blame entirely at his skates, but $7.5 million per season tends to make you ask, "what's going on?" when a star isn't producing.
The Isles' Outage
The Rangers aren't the only team struggling to score, as the Isles tallied more than one goal for the first time in two games Wednesday night in a 3-2 loss to the Devils. The drought didn't seem to bother Frans Nielsen, who notched both of the Islander goals Wednesday. With a career high 13 goals and 44 points, combined with his defensive contributions (plus-14 on a team with a minus-32 goal differential), Nielsen might be the most underrated player in the NHL. And he's a steal for the Islanders too -- he will remain under contract for just $525K next season. Cha-ching! Party on, Garth.
Feeling a Draft
The Islanders' decent stretch run has been encouraging for a struggling franchise, but it may also end up hurting their draft position. With Florida in a free fall (six straight losses) the Islanders are now tied for the fifth pick in the draft, pending the outcome of the lottery. As we discussed a little while back in this blog, you play to win, but that doesn't change the fact that most NHL scouts see this draft class as four-deep with elite NHL prospects. After that the future gets a little murkier. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier and Gabriel Landeskog are the top forwards in the class, with Swedish D Adam Larsson as the top D. After that, Insider's Gare Joyce ranks centers Ryan Strome (Niagara - OHL) and Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John - QMJHL) as the next two talents. Both are strong players and could develop to be better than the top four -- the draft is always a crap shoot -- but right now, scouts seem to be convinced there's a clear upper crust ... and the Islanders may just miss out.